The kingdom of Prester John was an important eschatological horizon
of Western Christianity towards the end of the Middle Age.
In the 16th century, the Ethiopian kings,
who were facing the advance of the Islamic armies,
looked to the Southern European Christians for help.
He formally asks for support from the Portuguese
who were by then settling in India and East Africa,
dislodging the Arabs and their fiefs.
Notwithstanding the 1442 declaration of unity
between the Copts and Rome, the Etiopian Embassador
who arrives in Lisbon in 1514 raises suspicions about
what the Portuguese clergy saw as the heretical character
of Ethiopian religious faith and practice.
Since then, the Catholic missionaries make it their goal
to bring the ignorant Ethiopians to the true path,
namely by trying to make them reject the Sabbath
and the practice of circumcision.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola himself is an enthusiastic believer
on the successful conversion of Orthodox Ethiopians to Catholicism.
Unfortunately for the first Jesuit missionaries,
their dream project fails to address the reality
of cultural difference of the Ethiopians.
The goal of this book is not so much to rewrite the history
of the Catholic missions in Ethiopia and the brief union
between the Ethiopian Church and Rome,
than to research into the missionary phenomenon
in 17th century Ethiopia, by looking at the politics of the conversion:
how did the old European representations of Ethiopian Christianity
impinge on the missionaries political strategies
to settle in that kingdom and try to convert the king,
his court and the society over which he ruled.
This approach led the author to study with great detail
the dynamics and the rules of the encounter
between the Jesuits and the Ethiopian Christian kings.
The book refuses all apologetic approaches of the mater
and brings forth a critical manner of writing
about the relations between Europe and Africa in the pre-colonial period.